There have been plenty of discussions throughout the world over the status of loot boxes in video games. Mainly about whether or not they should be considered as a form of gambling or not. The House of Commons in the United Kingdom has frequently deemed them as inappropriate for under 18s and suggested that they be banned for such gamers. And it seems as though there has now been some movement on their official status. At least, in the UK and the rest of Europe.
Video game ratings will now proceed with a warning on if they come with loot boxes and other random paid-for items within. The regulator PEGI has already had a generic in-game purchases label attached to video games ever since September of 2018. Yet, it now says that publishers will all be required to provide additional information, which focuses on the nature of the purchases that can be made in such games. At the same time, the United States is introducing a very similar system, although it’s as yet unclear as to how effective either of them will be.
Franchises like FIFA and Overwatch are just two of the titles that are among those that currently offer random in-game purchases to players. Yet, such games have resulted in gamers not really understanding that they’re buying things, especially in the case of children who are playing. One parent reported on their four children spending almost £550 in a three-week period by purchasing player packs to utilise on FIFA.
Other games, like Mario Kart World Tour, which is a free-to-download game, incorporates a sort of slot machine-style system. This has also grown in popularity recently, but it faced a huge backlash over certain monetisation features following its launch in September 2019.
What to Expect from the Warning Label
“Random paid items” are defined by PEGI as those that cannot be purchased directly with real money, or those that you’re unable to exchange within the game for virtual currency that can also be purchased directly with real money. Last year, about 20% of the rating licences issued by the regulator had in-game purchases with them.
When it comes to the new warning label being applied to these games, buyers will have the prior knowledge that those random paid items exist within such. Therefore, there can be no misunderstanding about such inclusions.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) of North America also announced similar plans this week, which would proceed with updating its in-game purchases warning to ensure that it includes much more specific information for buyers to take note of when accessing a game. When the news was released, a spokesman for ESRB stated that the new warning would be applicable for all games that incorporate “loot boxes, item or card packs, prize wheels, treasure chests and more” within them.
The UK gaming industry faced quite the backlash from MPs in 2019, who made the claim that in-game spending should come under regulation of gambling laws within the country. The calls for this to be brought into action came following a report that was issued by Internet Matters. This discovered that about a quarter of the 2,000 parents of four to 16 years olds that it spoke to were concerned over money being spent on games by their children.
Belgium was the very first country in the world to ban the sale of video game loot boxes outrightly, with this coming into law in 2018. China followed in suit recently, imposing restrictions on the number of loot boxes that players are able to open on a daily basis.